|Chapter Title||A NIGHT IN A TASMANIAN WOOD.|
|Newspaper Title||Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899)|
|Trove Title||The Maxwells of Bremgarten|
THE MAXWELLS OF BREMGARTEN. A STORY OF TASMANIA. [Founded on Facts.] (ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED.) (Continued from last Saturday's issue.) CHAPTER VIII. A NIGHT IN A TASMANIAN WOOD. OVERCOME by the painful sense of his situa- tion, Maxwell sat for some time without making the slightest movement. The branches of the trees shook above his head as the wind now and again in gentle gusts stirred the dry leaves, but he heeded nothing, so ab- sorbed was he in his dismal thoughts. At length, arousing himself, he stood up, threw his hands above his head, and exclaimed in accents of wild terror, " Good Heavens ! am I to perish here in this wilderness, far away from home and kindred ? O my dear wife ! my sweet children ! would that I were near you once more ! What demon of destruction has brought me to this place ?" Sitting down again on the log, his thoughts gradually became more calm. He reflected that even if compelled to stay all night in the forest, his situation was not so very bad. It did not rain, and he was neither hungry nor thirsty. The cold of the night was not dis- agreeable after the heat of the day. He did not feel very tired in body ; but the agony of his mind was far greater than it would have been if he possessed a little knowledge of the country. The consciousness of his utter ignorance of the locality in which he found himself—of the direction in which he ought to proceed—of the mysteries of the dark woods, before, behind, and on either side of him—embittered his thoughts and almost de- prived him of reason. He started up and seized his horse's bridle, saying to himself, " I will try at all risks to find my way out of this." Suiting the action to the word, he endeavored to retrace his steps, leading his horse over the logs and sticks, over which he had many a painful scramble. But notwithstanding all his dis- tresses, after he had groped his way for some time, it was some consolation to him to dis- cover that he was slowly emerging from the thickest part of the forest. He felt, too, be- neath his feet, the grass lying thicker and softer, for hitherto and for a long time he had trodden upon nothing but dry sticks and gravel. Again he sat down on a fallen tree to rest and to reflect. The exertion he had gone through he found to be of great service to his mind ; and he had some thoughts of lying down on the grass and resigning himself to his fate until the welcome daylight should appear. But again the powerful workings of a sleepless and energetic mind disturbed him, and up he rose once more to renewed exertion and active thought. His mental desperation had gra- dually cooled down. He whispered to him- self frequently the single word " patience," in the hope that as that virtue coupled with per- severance is said to conquer all things, it might lead him to some haven of rest. And his hope was not a vain one. Afar off in the gloomy recesses of the black wilderness he was astonished and delighted to behold a glimmering light, swelling, as he gazed, into the glare of a newly fed fire. His joy at this sight was somewhat damped when the thought struck him that the fire might possibly have been kindled by hostile natives or armed outlaws, said to be deter- mined enemies to all well-disposed and res- pectable people. Under the circumstances of the case it was necessary to approach with great caution, lest if suddenly alarmed, the watchers, whoever they might be, might on the first surprise make use of some deadly weapon with fatal effect. Maxwell slowly and quietly came near enough to dis- tinguish a solitary human being seated in front of the blazing fire, and gazing steadily on the rising flame. His face was wild and haggard, and would have appeared pale but for the yellow hue diffused over it by the glow of the fire. His dress consisted of a small dirty straw hat, moleskin jacket with velveteen sleeves, and trousers to correspond, not differing in those particulars from the working men of the period. His hair was long and black, and hung in clusters around his thin face, part of which was concealed by a rough beard. Fearful of disturbing this strange being, Maxwell approached near enough to survey him distinctly, and then paused. Half an hour passed in this survey : the one afraid to open his lips or move a step, the other totally unconscious that he was the object of such close scrutiny. But what Max- well was half afraid to do his horse did for him by snorting suddenly with a loud noise. Quick as the thought that directed the movement, the solitary watcher started to his feet, snatching a double-barrelled gun from the ground beside him and pointing it in the direction of the unexpected noise, said aloud, " Who comes there ?—friend or foe ! Stand, or you are a dead man ?" " A friend," replied Maxwell, rather alarmed by the quick movements and warlike determination of the man—" a friend, a lost traveller." " If you are a friend, stand still till I look at you ;" saying which the stranger took from the fire a piece of blazing bark, and placing his gun in such a position that he could use it in any direction at a moment's notice, ad- vanced towards our hero. A reckless ferocity sat upon his features, called up doubtless by the fancied danger of the moment. His eyes, starting almost from their sockets, glared fear- fully in the light of the torch he carried, and Maxwell could now perceive that he was heavily armed, in addition to his gun, with two pairs of pistols secured in a belt ready for instant use. The apparition of this outlaw, for such he was, had a terrifying effect on the harrassed mind of the traveller. His tall figure, his yellow waisted visage, gaunt like that of a famished wretch, the solemnity of the hours and the awful solitude of that dreary
forest, all combined to make the heart of the benighted settler beat quickly, though it would have been the greatest injustice in the world to call him a coward. " What brings you here ?" said the outlaw, thrusting his torch within a few inches of Maxwell's face. " Who are you ? where do you come from ? where are you going to ? Answer quickly." " I am a traveller," replied Maxwell. " I have lost my way. I came from Hobarton, and I seek a Mr. Johnson Juniper, residing in this neighborhood." "A traveller, are you ? On what business do you travel ?" " On private business of my own." " Private business of your own," said the outlaw slowly, and with a diabolical sneer ; " you won't condescend to tell me what it is, then ? But I can see—I can read you, man : you are a spy, you are a cat's-paw of the in- fernal tyrants who drove me to madness, and would now, if they could, wallow in my blood." As the unfortunate man spoke he scowled terribly. He was perhaps glad of the oppor- tunity to work himself up into a rage against his fellow men. He turned the muzzle of his gun, already upon full cock, close upon Max- well's breast. " I am no spy," said the latter, " neither am I a cat's-paw of tyrants ; I am a stranger and alone ; I have been scarcely two months in this island ; if you do not believe me, fire —but beware how you shed innocent blood. As to my business, it is nothing to you, so long as you know that it does not concern you in the least." "And if I believe you," said the outlaw, who seemed, though ferocious, to be an intel- ligent if not a well-educated man, " if I do believe you and take you upon trust, what may be the consequence ? There is such a thing as treachery in the world ; there are such things as cats in the world, with velvet feet and sharp claws ; there are such things as snakes in the world-snakes, too, that do not crawl upon their bellies, but walk on two legs, and watch and scheme while honest men sleep ;—are you armed ?" "No." " Let me convince myself. What have you here ?" " Stand back," said Maxwell ; "if you be- lieve not my words you shall not touch my person. Man or fiend ! if you thirst for my blood, shed it while your own is hot, and ask God's pardon when it cools." " Do you value your life so lightly, then ?" said the outlaw with a savage grin, bringing his gun, which he had withdrawn for a mo- ment, again to bear on the traveller's breast. Are you not aware into whose hands you have fallen—are you weary of your exist- ence ?" " Partly so," was the reply, " and yet I could wish to live a little longer for the sake of those I love." " Who are they ?" " Wife and children. Are you a stranger to such ties ?" " I am, and have been long ; don't pester me with your wife and children; and since you will not let me search you, you must search yourself ; empty your pockets here on the grass, and turn them inside out ; open your breast and let me see that you have no concealed weapon." " By what right do you command me thus ?" said Maxwell. " By the right of an armed and desperate man," thundered the ruffian savagely ; " trifle with me no longer, or I will dig your grave where you stand, and burn your body to ashes before daylight comes." Seeing that escape from the hands of this ruthless savage was impossible, Maxwell quietly submitted and did as he was ordered. He opened his coat and assisted in searching himself with a grace similar to that which he might display at his own funeral. Emptying his pockets and spreading the contents out on the grass, he turned them inside out as directed by his imperious dictator. Satisfied apparently with his examination the outlaw turned the articles over, having kindled a few more pieces of bark to give him light. " A handkerchief," said he, speaking as if to himself, " gloves, pocket book, any bank notes in it ? You have a valise I see ; got a clean shirt to give away, as mine is a little the worse for wear ? A silver watch and guard—why don't you carry a gold watch, it's more respectable ? A book, what's this about ? Dryden's Virgil, that shan't trouble me much : a knife, that's lucky, I want a knife : a purse, and pretty well filled too ; how much money have you here, neigh- bour ?" " Between six and seven pounds," an- swered Maxwell. "Very good," said the outlaw, tossing up the purse and catching it again ; " supposing I treat you well, you'll give me this, won't you ? I never rob people except on a pinch, but I'm not above accepting a present now and then." " I'll give it to you freely provided you will guide me to Mr. Johnson Juniper's house," said the traveller. " And what if I won't guide you to Mr. Johnson Juniper's house ?" " Then you'll keep the purse I should say by force of circumstances." " Well come, I'll trust you, but I'll watch you ; you'll want some tea, I have some left in the kettle still, and here is a mouthful of damper ; sit down, warm and refresh your- self ; take the bit out of your horse's mouth and let him fill his belly ; we must be stirring before the sun gets up." " Where do you propose going to ?" asked the traveller. " Well, now I think you really are what you pretend to be ; a cunning trap or spy would never have asked me that question. Come, here are the provisions ; you don't take me for a fool, do you ? Is it likely I
would tell you or anybody where I intend going ?" " I only wanted to know for my own sake," said Maxwell. " I do not wish to pro- ceed farther into this wilderness. As to your movements, they are a matter of perfect in- difference to me, so long as you are not bent on murder or other violence." The outlaw laughed strangely. " Bent on murder or other violence !" he exclaimed. " What have you to do with murder, if you are neither the perpetrator nor the victim ?" " As a faithful and peaceable subject of the king's I would feel bound to prevent one being committed, if any previous knowledge of the matter enabled me to do so ; otherwise I am not solicitous of being made acquained with your movements." " Suppose, now, I was going to rob Mr. Johnson Juniper, your friend and my eneny, you'll come with me and help to carry the swag, wouldn't you ?" " No, most decidedly." " What ! not if you heard the click of a pistol in your ear ?" " I tell you no, not for twenty pistols ; I am not afraid to die." " Well, it's no matter," said the bush- ranger, " I am not going to put you to the proof at present ; some other time perhaps I may find out what stuff you are made of—we may meet again." " Heaven in mercy forbid," said Maxwell, boldly hazarding the joke, " unless it is to help me out of a dilemma like this. What, may I ask, has brought you to this state of desperation ?" " Why, nothing," replied the outlaw, " but tyranny, cool unrelenting tyranny. I came to this country after having transgressed the laws of England, my native land. With strong resolutions of reform and amendment, I had determined to serve the Government faithfully, and win back my freedom, now doubly dear to me since I had lost it ; but my hard fate pursued me as if it had been determined that the first false step should be the forerunner of a still greater fall. In an evil hour I became the servant of a settler near Hobarton. He was an old pen- sioner, a drunkard and a tyrant, who had learned dissipation and brutality in the bravest army in Europe, the English. He spurned and trampled on me, and his joy was great whenever an opportunity occurred of getting me punished. It was in vain that I tried to conquer my feelings of indignation ; my mind preyed upon itself, and became like a fiery furnace. I abhorred the sight of my cruel master, for he added sneering insolence to cruelty. I became careless and neglectful, For not having wood ready to kindle a fire one morning early, he sent me into the town with a letter—more fool I to take it—and I was immediately tied up to the triangles and flogged like a dog. I returned boiling with fury—my hateful persecutor came up to me. ' Well, my poor fellow,' said he, with his usual sneer, ' did they tickle you, my poor boy ? you'll have wood chopped another time when I want my breakfast—least ways if you dont'—he said no more, for I sprang upon him like a tiger and levelled him with the ground ; I spat upon him and danced on his prostrate body. He screamed for mercy, though it was a stranger to his own breast. I was wild, blind, and deaf with passion, and continued kicking my fallen enemy ; but at last his wife came running to his assistance, and pushed me away shrieking for help. I fled into the bush, but being what they call a greenhorn was soon taken, tried for the double offence of assaulting my master and absconding, and received a fearful corporal punishment and a sentence to five years in chains, to be spent at a penal settlement called Macquarie Harbor, of all places this side of Hell the most dreadful." " That was terrible indeed," said Maxwell, " I suppose you absconded from that awful place ?" " Yes, I did, more than once, though it is surrounded by an impervious forest, com- pared to which this is an open mea- dow or a garden. If you know what I and some of my comrades have en- dured there you would wonder how flesh and blood could stand it even for a single day. I have travelled with men, whose sufferings have long since terminated, through the dense scrub for weeks together, living on twigs, leaves, old boots, and—what do you think ?" " Opossums, I suppose," said Maxwel. " Simpleton, no ! 'possums don't live there —at least we saw none ; they would perish of cold, if not of hunger. But if we had met you in that forest as I have in this—and you are not in bad store order, as the farmers say —you would have been a welcome sight." The settler started with horror. " You don't mean to say you would have eaten me ?" he said. " O no !" said the outlaw, with an atrocious laugh, " all I say is that a fat bullock would scarcely have been more welcome." " Good God !" said Maxwell, shuddering; " did you ever serve any unfortunate traveller so ?" " Thoughtless fool that you are," said the fearful man sharply, " do you think I don't know better than to tell you of everything I have done or left undone ? Travellers were safe ; they had no business there. But let it rest ; those days are gone by ; you have noth- ing to fear now : a crust of bread he found, and sheep are not scarce in civilized parts. After all it is not more dreadful than the sufferings of shipwrecked mariners of whom you may have read, and their being obliged to slaughter a companion now and again to serve for sustenance to the rest." " It is awful—it is terrible," said the tra- veller. " Not more terrible than true ; but we did not fancy that kind of grub ; your horse, now, would have been a much sweeter morsel." " Of course nothing but the most dreadful necessity drove you to such awful expedients. And how did you escape from that frightful forest ?"
" I could not escape from it by land, so I returned and gave myself up, preferring to live in servitude than die of starvation. But the devil of restlessness and despair again took possession of my mind, and in company with five others I made my escape in a boat, and this time, after suffering hardships that I cannot think of without shuddering, we suc- ceeded in reaching the interior. But of what use is liberty to me ? I am tracked here and there like a wild beast. I have a thousand times wished for death, yet have not courage to blow my brains out, and have sworn never to be taken alive." " It is not too late even now," said Maxwell, " to give yourself up quietly to the authorities ; it is highly probable that your life would be spared. I myself will go to the Governor and intercede for you. Your kindness and hospitality to a lost traveller may not go un- rewarded." " It won't do," said the outlaw; " you do not know the authorities as I do ; your Go- vernor is like a rock of adamant. I am an unfortunate wretch, and have been so from my cradle. My father was a respectable farmer near Bristol ; my mother was a good woman but a weak one. Instead of petting me and spoiling me as she did, and allowing me the full command of both time and in- clination, she should have punished me when I did wrong, or given me up to those whose duty it was to punish me. But when I played truant from school, she screened me : when I robbed an orchard and the owner traced me, she hid me ; when I disobeyed my father, she begged me off ; if she asked me to do anything, I told her with impunity to do it herself ; if she was vexed and attempted to slap me, I grinned at her and ran away. Thus the fond woman, though she loved me, helped to make me a villain. I soon began to rob her and my father, whose bread, earned by the sweat of his brow and sorrowful labor, I was eating. If I gave you a history of my life ever since I put to silence that still small voice of conscience, which I remember to have heard spoken of in a sermon once, you would wonder why the earth did not swallow me. If I mentioned my name to you I would expect the trees to fall of them- selves and crush me, and you, too, for being in my company." " You are penitent, I hope ; you are sorry for your crimes before God : remember the words, ' I will have mercy and not sacrifice ;' and again, ' Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow.' If men will not forgive you, there is a world to come which you may enter and where you may hope for forgiveness. We are all sinners, but if we know that our Redeemer liveth, one hour of sincere repentance and trust in Him may obliterate a whole life of sin." The outlaw smiled bitterly. " Think you so ?" he said ; " an hour in prayer and re- pentance can be easily passed." " It can," replied Maxwell, " but God re- quires the inward love, the sincere devotion and repentance of the heart, not the wordy ravings of a hypocrite." " I'll think of it ;" said his rude enter- tainer. " Now if you want rest, lie down where you are and take some ; I will lie yonder on my arms—the fall of a single leaf will rouse me. I do not fear you, but be careful ; one step from the spot you occupy may cost you your life." The stern desperado having secured Max- well's horse with a piece of stout line, pro- bably used sometimes to tie up refractory travellers, retired to his lair, and our settler stretched himself on the ground in order if possible to obtain a little repose, of which both his exhausted body and harassed mind stood much in need. He had wrapped him- self in a good thick overcoat, but notwith- standing this he felt his bed hard, and the ground though perfectly dry was sufficiently cold to send a sensation of chilliness into his very bones. He closed his eyes and at- tempted to sleep, but his extraordinary situ- ation had produced such an effect upon his mind that he was quite un- able to enjoy any settled or refreshing slumber. His brain, like that of a man suffering from deliriums tremens, was constantly disturbed by grotesque and terrible images which succeeded each other, like the passing figures of a magic lantern, with start- ling rapidity. At one moment he was sur- rounded by a crowd of shadow-like beings, having tails like devils, yellow faces, and staring eyes, with pistols in their hands ; they danced round him with fiendish glee, and with a shout of laughter disappeared. Anon, he was in a strange place, a rocky desert, where not a green leaf was visible, and beside him stood a massive pillar of white cold stone, to which he was chained ; struggling to escape the pillar fell and crushed him into wakefulness. The leaves rustled above his head, and the decaying fire smouldered by his side, but daylight was not visible. He slept again, and a vision of brighter aspect pre- vented itself to the imagination. He found himself in a broad and beautiful meadow, rambling along leisurely knee-deep in thick green grass and sweet scented flowers of gay and brilliant colors. While walking on he suddenly felt himlself affected with a painful languor and intolerable thirst ; he looked about for water : the plain seemed boundless in extent, but at a distance he espied a little vale, in which his fitful fancy told him there might be a stream. He has- tened to the bank and beheld at the bottom, to his great delight, a well of the pure ele- ment shining in the sun ; he ran to the brink, and was about to quench his burning thirst, when in a moment the head of a black loath- some snake rose above the surface, hissing and darting its fangs upon him. In renewed terror he started again, and opened his eyes to see that the first glimmering of daylight had already appeared in the sky. His thoughts, when awake, were scarcely less dreadful than his dreams. He felt very cold, but darerd not stir. An awful silence reigned around. Should he call out and
arouse his fearful entertainer ? No, the ex- periment was too dangerous to be tried ; thinking of his absent wife and children almost made him a coward. He determined to have patience, and closed his eyes again. Presently he heard the voice of the outlaw commanding him to get up and prepare for his journey. He obeyed, and was soon ready the bushranger approached him. " Here," he said, " take back your purse ; I have helped myself to part of the contents, cnough for present wants. Give me that rope. What is your name, for we may meet again ?" Maxwell gave the desired information. " Now," said the outlaw, " follow me and say nothing." His singular guide started off at a quick pace, the traveller following on horseback. For a considerable distance they proceeded thus, when the guide suddenly stopped. " There," said he, pointing with his gun through the bushes, " in another moment you will be on the track, follow it to the right, it will take you to the ford, and the road on the other side will take you to Juniper's house. And hark you, friend, if you prove treacherous, or say a single word of having met me here, you will get bitter cause to re- pent it." Maxwell promised that nothing should induce him to speak on the subject, and thanking his guide, who instantly disappeared in the forest, rode on his way. (To be continued.)